A Path Less Taken

Disclaimer: A story repost since I had difficulties with the last time that I'd posted it. So... Here you go. A SeverusXHermione AU pairing ftw. It'll be different from my last time that I had posted, I can assure you of that. Note that the part of the first chapter was borrowed from the first film because it was the only way to get Hermione's desire to make her seemingly foolish wish to work. Otherwise, it'll be an AU from here on out. Keep in mind too that some lines may be used from the movie. This fic was heavily intended for that, but overall, most will be changed. I do not lay claim to them in any way. As for Voldemort's death, I LOVED the books and movies, but I always thought his death in them was kinda...dumb. LOL.

"The key to change... is to let go of fear."

- Rosanne Cash

"Sometimes it's the smallest decisions that can change your life forever."

- Keri Russell

By: VampireQueenAkasha

"But me - I say there are spots that don't come off, Snape. Spots that never come off, d' you know what I mean?"

- 'Mad Eye' Moody.

Part Thirty

Seven Years Later

Azkaban was as it always had been.

Snape was resting in one of the cells, his hand writing on a scroll. His eyes were sunken and sad and he had been starting to grow a beard. He had been in Azkaban for a long time after the end of the Second Wizarding War, despite Hermione's efforts. Harry Potter had even attempted to persuade the world of Snape's innocence, but until they came to a verdict, he was left to rot in the cell for a long time. Though they did allow him to write to Hermione.

Dearest Hermione,

I think of you always. Your smile, your laughter brings me the utmost joy as

I rot away here in this horrible place.

I'm not angry about anything. The blame has to fall on me for what I've done,

despite my intentions. Though I feel a sense of despair when I think that I was

not there to see our child come into the world cradled in your arms, and her first smile...

Snape rubbed his chin thoughtfully before he continued.

I spoke with another Death Eater today. He accepts his faults and seeks to be rehabilitated.

It's quite refreshing to see someone in a similar state of affairs. More or less, anyway.

Those packages you had to sneak in here has made me quite popular with him; the chocolate

fudge brightens my day every little bit and does his. And now, that picture you've sent of our

daughter, beautiful little Eileen. I am thankful that I have the chance to watch her grow in

these pictures at least. It is a little blessing, but one that I am grateful for regardless.

I showed them to my friend and he remarked that it was a miracle of the Gods that she

look more like you than myself. I would agree, I suppose.

Despite everything, I still consider myself ever so lucky to have brought a child into being.

It was one of my dearest dreams.

He rolled up the scroll and passed it to an Auror guard by his cell who had been waiting. The man gruffly took the letter and attached it to the leg of a large, fat white owl before it fled through a hatch in the ceiling. Snape watched it go with a sad chuckle before leaning against the wall of his cell to sleep.

O

"Hey! Snape!"

Snape woke up to the sound of the Auror. The man snorted and turned. "You have a visitor."

Snape frowned and straightened when Harry Potter appeared at the door of his cell; the man looked still the same as he had as a child and yet, he was dressed in very formal clothing; a suit and tie as well as a cloak over his shoulders.

"Harry Potter..." Snape said, smirking rather nastily. "The great Harry Potter comes to visit me in my lowly prison cell."

Harry smiled somewhat. "Still the same as I remember you, Professor Snape," he remarked. Then, he looked serious now. "I've fought tooth and nail and managed to get you a court date in two weeks. They will discuss whether or not you deserve to be freed. You'll be able to see your family, Snape."

Snape looked momentarily surprised before his eyes filled. "How is she?"

Harry's smile disappeared and he sighed. Snape could see that he looked like a man who had seen a great enduring of his love. "Surviving. Eileen's birthday is coming up in those two weeks and she's going to celebrate it at the Burrow. I thought it would be a good birthday gift for her to see her father."

Snape nodded his head and he smiled with despair and wanting. "I'd do anything to see my child..."

"Then follow my lead in two weeks and you will."

Snape curled his nose. "When did you become a lawyer, Potter?"

"I'm an Auror now, so I think that's almost the same."

Snape snorted with contempt.

Harry turned to go. "I'll see you then, professor..."

And he was gone.

In those days that passed, Snape received many letters from Eileen and Hermione. He was especially delighted to read about Eileen's time at school; he had always wanted to learn as much as he could about his child. He occasionally laughed quietly at Eileen's letter.

Dear Dad,

I started today at elementary school. Mom was very paranoid.

My new teacher is Miss. Smith. She's very nice and lets me have

extra portions of snacks at lunch. Of course, I can't tell anyone.

Mom says I'm going to go to Hogwarts soon. I can't wait!

Snape went straight to work to find some paper to return the letter. When he couldn't, he angrily yelled at the Auror at his cell. "Paper, paper," he snapped, shaking his hand through the cell, "Give me something to write on, dammit!"

The Auror scoffed with irritation and walked to a table, scooping some paper up in his arms before tossing them at Snape. "There, now be quiet."

Snape glared at him and began to write.

Dear Eileen,

I was very happy to read your letter. It brought my heart endless joy.

I'm glad that you like your teacher and hope school is going well for you.

I hope things are going well with your mother as well. I truly miss you.

Once he had sent out the letter, he received another letter in return shortly afterwards from his family. This one didn't seem as happy as the last one. When Snape read it, he winced with pain at the words.

Dear Father,

Today wasn't as fun as before. I don't like my school anymore. I don't

want to go back tomorrow.

This boy, Jordan MacGregor, has horrible teeth and calls me "grease top".

He makes fun of my nose too and says it's too big. I don't like him at all.

Mother says I have to go back no matter what. Tell her not to make me.

Dad. Are you ever coming home?

Snape laughed softly and worked on another letter.

Dear Eileen,

Hopefully this will find you still in school. School is very important for

your future. I'm afraid to say that your mother is right.

Now, don't you worry about that little brat Jordan MacGregor. Sometimes

in school, you will meet people like that, but don't let them get you down.

It took a lot for me, so I know what you are going through. Best of luck.

One day, you will prove them that you are special.

And of course I'm coming home. In just a little while longer, and all the

things that we missed doing together we will do as a family. Everything

that you missed, I promise I will make up for it. No matter what.

The two weeks went by slower than Snape had expected. He was removed from his cell and sent to be cleaned up. They shaved and trimmed his hair and placed him an old, but clean suit to prepare to be sent to the Wizengamot. As he walked down the corridors of cells, listening to the horrible sounds of prisoners around him, he had a final letter clutched in his hands that he was to send out to Hermione. Hopefully, it would be the last.

Dearest Hermione,

I'm coming home to my family. Harry Potter will ensure that, I hope.

I only hope that I'm not a disappointment to Eileen or to you.

With Love,

Severus

O

Snape stood before the Wizengamot. Harry was beside him.

"Severus Snape, the council is deeply troubled by your history of violence, despite Harry Potter's evidence otherwise" Kingsley Shacklebolt was positioned as Minister for Magic and regarded Snape with hesitant eyes, "I know of Miss Granger's situation, but you have to prove to me otherwise that you are truly innocent."

Harry frowned in frustration. "Minister, Severus Snape's memories were shown to the council. What proof do you need?"

Kingsley nodded his head. "Memories can be tampered with, Harry."

"If Snape had done nothing before, Draco would have been killed," Harry told him, "And had he not put himself in danger the way he had, none of us would be here today! None of us would have ever known anything about the Dark Lord's plans! Snape left clues and intentionally put himself on the slab for us."

Kingsley sighed and looked at the rest of the Wizengamot. "By a show of vote, I want to know; which of you believes that Snape should be freed and released of all charges?" he asked, "Has he truly suffered enough for his crimes?"

All around the room, hands slowly went up. A good number of individuals appeared to be for Snape's release. Kingsley looked impressed.

"Very well, Severus Snape is hereby released," he said.

Snape smiled with relief. "Thank the Gods..."

Harry put his hand on Snape's shoulder. "Come on, Professor. Hermione's waiting."

O

The Burrow was definitely made for the party.

Balloons animals had been animated and were floating about in the air, making animal noises. A bubbling fountain was blowing bubbles made from candy. Snape had to take a guess since several children were attempting to eat them.

"The Burrow is quite festive," he remarked, once the car pulled up.

Harry chuckled and stepped out. Snape slowly joined him after much hesitation.

"Professor, it's going to be okay," he assured him.

Snape looked at him weakly. He was clutching a book tightly in his hands. "One can hope, Potter."

"I'll get Hermione and Eileen to come out here," Harry told him, "If you really don't feel comfortable, you can wait by the car."

Snape nodded his head slightly and watched as Harry walked toward the Burrow; it would definitely be more comfortable for him if the others did not see him and crowd him with questions yet. He was met by Ginny Weasley and Snape was surprised to see the pair exchange a kiss. After a while, three little happy children immediately met him. Snape guessed that Ginny and Harry had married and the children were in fact his. It had certainly been a long time since he had seen the outside world. A lot had certainly changed in that time.

Just then, he looked up as Harry stepped out of the Burrow, flanked by Hermione and Eileen.

Snape's eyes misted. Hermione had changed since Belial had left her; she still had the faint glow of yellow in her eyes, but her hands no longer had those long, sharp nails and the scar on her chest appeared to have faded. She was wearing a summer jacket and pants and looked to be smiling. Harry must not have mentioned anything about his release yet. Eileen was following Hermione and appeared to be talking as well; she was wearing a black vest over a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Her long, black hair was shining and she looked happy as well. Gods, she looked like Hermione, but had that little scowl that Snape was famous for when she looked over at Ron and grimaced at his consuming of sweets. And her nose was distinctly longer than Hermione's.

Then, Harry gestured toward Snape and Hermione looked up.

Snape tensed when her eyes grew wide and she rushed up to him. She immediately threw her arms into him and the force of her connecting knocked Snape off of his feet with a grunt and flat on his ass. Harry and Eileen watched the scene; Eileen looked shocked.

"Severus!" she cried, "Oh God, you're here..."

He smiled tearfully and kissed her as many times as he wanted. "Yes, love, I'm here. I'm here."

Hermione parted and helped him sit up. She looked back at Eileen and gestured for her to come forward. Eileen reluctantly stepped forward and Snape quickly offered the book to the child.

"I brought something for you, Eileen." he said.

Eileen shyly hid behind her mother. Snape looked a little surprised and glanced up at Harry before he chuckled weakly and attempted to dust the book off of dust with his sleeve.

"Ah yes, the book is a bit dusty," he murmured, somewhat embarrassed, "That book store owner wouldn't know a clean book if it..."

Hermione gave Eileen's head a gentle pet. "Eileen, sweetie, you take your daddy's present now." she told her.

Snape shook his head. "No, no, no, Hermione. It's okay," he assured her.

Eileen took a few cautious steps forward and took the book in her arms. She smiled cautiously up at Snape. "You're really my daddy?"

Snape smiled, his jaw set to prevent himself from crying. "Yes. I am."

Eileen slowly walked up and put her arms around him. Hermione followed suit and the family just held each other for a long time. Harry watched the scene with a smile on his face, pleased to see them united.

Hermione looked beyond Snape and spotted a shadowy form watching the scene from the cornfield.

It was Belial.

He just smiled at her and gave her a wave.

"Farewell, Hermione. Live a long life in the happiness that you deserve..."

And then, he turned and disappeared.

Hermione parted from Snape and smiled at him. "We have so much to tell you."

Snape smiled broadly and gave Eileen's head a gentle pat. "And I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my life listening."

Finally, the family stood up and walked to the Burrow as Hermione started to tell Snape everything that he had missed.

And he listened.

Only this time, he was happy not to be behind bars and in the loving embrace of his family.

A family he never believed that he would have.

THE END